So, at least in the Fifth Circuit, sidewalks are now a "service" of the city such that the city must make sidewalks accessible to persons with disabiliuties. The Fifth Circuit so ruled in the case of Frame v. City of Arlington. The district court had dismssed the plaintffs’ suit because, said the court, the two year statute of limitations had long since passed from the date the sidewalks had been built. A three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit overturned the lower court decision, saying that yes, sidewalks are a service of the city. Both sides then sought an en banc hearing before the entire Fifth Circuit appellate court. The three judge panel then withdrew its decision and issued a new decision, saying no, sidewalks are not a service of the city. I discussed that decision here.
The Court has now rendered a close 8-7 decision, finding that providing sidewalks is a service of the city which must comply with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. See decision. The decision is limited to sidewalks built or modified since January 26, 1992, the effective date of the ADA. The decision specifically notes that the statute of limitations or time period in which the person must complain starts not when the sidewalks was built but when the person first encounters the sidewalk. So, in effect, the statute of limitation will vary from person to person. Cities will now have much stronger incentive to make sidewalks repairs a higher priority.
This is a huge issue for all municipalities. There are miles and miles of sidewalks all across the country that are not accessible to persons in wheel chairs. I still see too many wheel chair bound folks trying to traverse road shoulders just to get to the grocery store. The cost is huge, but the danger of doing nothing is also very large.